Thursday, 23 January 2020


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“Your right to swing your fists ends where my nose begins.”– Anon. 

We all have basic rights. Modern day people enjoy a wider plethora of rights than their ancestors from “back in the days”. There was time women didn’t have a right to vote. Now we have women in public office. Before Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream, the African-American had little to no rights. Now America has a black President. Who in the early half of the 20th Century would have imagined that?

The average human being has more rights than he/she even knows about. But where do one person’s rights end and another begins?

Man’s exercise of freedom is obstructed by various factors of physical, psychological, social and environmental natures (Obilade, 2005). Individual freedom has to be balanced with the freedom of other individuals and with the reasonable demands of the community. The exercise of one person’s right cannot be used to violate the rights of his neighbor. There are restrictions to exercising your rights where it violates the same rights of the next man. Some of these restrictions are:

Freedom of Expression

Most expression is harmless and protected by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Every person is entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.

However, this freedom is not absolute. There are limitations particularly where this freedom affects the rights and reputation of others.

A good example of the need for limitations to the freedom of expression is harmful gossip, particularly in this age of social media. There is nothing wrong in having a personal opinion (false or otherwise) of others. But where that opinion is false and is publicly expressed to the detriment of that person’s reputation and good name, it becomes a violation of that person’s rights.

Freedom of Movement

Under the 1999 Constitution, every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof.  However, exercise of this right may lead to violation of another person’s right to privacy.

A good example that comes to mind is Trespass. While you may have the right to move freely anywhere in the country, this right is limited to acts of trespass on another person’s private property. A property-owner also has the right to restrict and refuse entry into his private-owned property.

Entry without permission into private property is a gross exercise of the right to freedom of movement and grounds for an action of trespass by the property-owner.

Freedom to Acquire and Own Immovable Property Anywhere in Nigeria

Another constitutionally granted right is the freedom to acquire and own property in the country.

An obvious limitation to the exercise of this right is that you cannot forcibly acquire and claim the immovable property of another person. Unlike the American Moon Landing, you cannot just land on a piece of property, stick a flag in the ground and claim it as yours. There are proper procedures to acquiring and owning property belonging to others that will not end up in legal or physical battles.

Freedom of Assembly

Every person is entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons. But where this right is exercised in a way that it becomes a nuisance to others, it becomes a right that needs to be limited.

Groups such as religious, political, trade unions etc., have a right to meet and share ideas, philosophy, discuss matters relating to their associations. But where these assemblies become rowdy affairs disturbing the peace and serenity of residents of the area where they are assembled, they become nuisances.

Examples are religious assemblies in residential areas that use loudspeakers and can be heard even at long distances from where they are assembled. Or political groups that assemble and become rowdy as well as littering the area with political pamphlets and posters. These are gross violations of the exercise of the freedom to assemble.

The above are just a few examples of why rights are not absolute and ought to be exercised carefully and not to the detriment of others. There can be no such thing as absolute and unlimited human freedom. There would be anarchy.


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